With the growth of online retail and interactivity, shopping has shifted from being a necessity to a discretionary leisure activity. As a result, physical retail spaces have to work harder than ever to attract customers.
The rise of the store destination experience has demonstrated the need for brands to think beyond a merely product centric approach; no longer can they act as mere show rooms. For people to be lured offline and into physical spaces, shopping has had to become an enjoyable and inspiring experience. In today’s technologically driven world, brands must integrate the physical store with their digital capabilities to create experience-focussed retail.
One way to innovate the physical store is to implement more in-store digital technology. The physical space can be enhanced by using real-time data to produce real-time promotions,  by utilising touch screen technologies, or by introducing iPads to traditional mannequins. The presence of in-store Photo Booths bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds, as active social media customers turn the present experience into an online post.
Technology can also innovate the retail space through customisation options – exemplified in NikeTown, which has Macs in-store allowing customers to ‘Reinvent Your Air’ and ‘Make It Yours’. Interestingly Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street store is also following this trend by allowing customers to ‘Design Bespoke Fashion in minutes’ through personalised t-shirts.
The same store demonstrates how immersion can be found where entire lifestyle and service packages are found under one roof; it is complete with café, Bleach salon, Hersheson’s hairdressers and Personal Shopper areas. This fulfils the customer’s expectation to shop on their own terms, drifting between services. Jigsaw’s new Duke Street Emporium concept store works similarly, with its Fernandez & Wells coffee bar.
We believe that the key to store success is in the curation of all of these things. The rise of the omnichannel approach, whereby the customer experience is orchestrated across channels in a seamless, integrated way has allowed for tech to create a sense of store theatre and interpersonal interaction. According to Chris Donnelly, global managing director of Accenture’s retail practice,  this is the best way to gain a competitive advantage.
Selfridges has pioneered this trend, with its current Fragrance Lab standing as a fine example of immersive multi-sensory retail. It aims to distil the customer’s persona into a tailored scent by tracking responses to their journey through various interactive spaces. Not only does this align the customer more closely to their product, it places value back into the experience of being physically present in the retail space.
Author of ‘The Vanishing High Street’ Bill Grimsey called for retail to ‘recapture a sense of vibrancy, social cohesion and face-to-face encounters’.  This is, after all, the value that retail stores have over the internet (in addition to same day physical acquisition).
Selfridges again proved this through its ‘Festival of Imagination’, HTC Skatepark and more recently its #beautyproject, involving talks and debates. In such instances a sense of community is brought back to the shopping environment as the store functions as a meeting space.
The ephemeral nature of pop-up exhibitions and events works well in attracting trend chasers and the younger generations through the ‘you had to be there’ mentality. John Lewis is attracting a number of shoppers of all ages with its 150 year celebrations – the opening up its roof garden complete with play area and bar, live in-store music and interactive exhibition ‘Stories of a Shopkeeper’, which details the store’s development from drapers shop to international retail brand. In a move to be at the cutting edge of retail change the store has also launched JLab – a Technology Incubator hub for 5 start-up companies, to facilitate the development of new tech and strategic thinking.
The key to the longevity of the high street is to take an integrated approach by considering the retail experience in totality to truly engage with the customer. The shopper experience needs to be enhanced to create innovative destination places which allow for social encounters. In order to compete with online retail, careful curation of in-store tech needs to harness what the internet can never truly offer: immersive presence in the physical space.
Author: Sarah Moor
 The Future of Retail https://nrf.com/news/global/the-future-of-retail
 Shoppers increasingly want in-store experience to mirror online http://www.retailcustomerexperience.com/news/shoppers-increasingly-want-in-store-experience-to-mirror-online/
 The Vanishing High Street: The Grimsey Review, Bill Grimsey
Read about recent immersive retail pop-up experiences at Westfield here http://www.totality.uk.com/news/immersive-retail-pop-up-experience